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Origins of Delaware


Legislative hall of Delaware
Legislative hall of Delaware

Before the arrival of the first European settlers, the Delaware River valley was inhabited by a group of Native Americans who spoke a language of the Algonquian linguistic stock. They called themselves the Lenni Lenape, which means “original people” or “real people,” and they were accorded the title “grandfathers” by other Native American groups to acknowledge their long occupation of the valley. They lived by hunting, fishing, and farming; their chief crops were corn, beans, and squash. The Lenni Lenape, who came to be known as the Delaware to the European settlers, were organized in a confederacy of three large groups that ranged from southern New York state to northern Delaware. The southernmost group occupied the northern part of what is now Delaware. The Nanticoke people, who were related to the Delaware, lived in southwestern Delaware along the Nanticoke River. Occasionally the Minqua, a warlike people who spoke an Iroquoian language, came from the interior of Pennsylvania to trade furs along the Delaware River.

The 17th Century


The first European explorations in the area were by agents of The Netherlands, whose people are called the Dutch, and England. Henry Hudson, a navigator from England who was employed by the Dutch East India Company to find the fabled Northwest Passage through North America to the Pacific Ocean, is credited with discovering Delaware Bay in 1609. However, he did not explore it. The following year, Captain Samuel Argall, an English explorer, gave the name Cape De la Warr to a point of land on the western shore in honor of Thomas West, 3rd Baron De la Warr, the governor of the English colony of Virginia.

Between 1614 and 1620 several Dutch ships explored the Delaware River. In 1624 another company, the Dutch West India Company, set up the colony of Nieuw Nederland (New Netherland), which claimed the Delaware Valley, the Hudson River Valley, and the land between them.

The company encouraged business people to buy land from the Native American inhabitants, which they could then rule as patroons, or manorial lords, provided they brought in settlers. A group of merchants bought the land between Bombay Hook and Cape Henlopen and in 1631 built Swanendael, the first European settlement in Delaware, on the site of present-day Lewes. Within a year the settlement was destroyed, and the settlers were killed by Native Americans. This was the only such attack ever made on white settlers in Delaware, and it is uncertain which Native American people was responsible. "Delaware" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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